Albums of 2014 (#8): The Afghan Whigs – Do to the Beast (Sub Pop)
With their first album in 16 years, The Afghan Whigs proved that style never goes out of fashion. Greg Dulli looks back over their renaissance
All told, it was a league apart from your typical, cynical reformation. When The Afghan Whigs amicably called it a day in 2001, their reasons (geography, family) were such that regrouping at some point couldn't be ruled out. So when they stepped back on stage for a run of shows in 2012, that seed was surely sown.
A rejuvenated Greg Dulli and fellow founding member John Curley received rave notices for their new touring line-up. Would new material be forthcoming? Whigs fans crossed everything. They got their wish this past April with the release of Do to the Beast [reviewed here], a scorching reminder that Dulli still knows better than most how to conjure up a uniquely soul-influenced blend of guitar rock. The Whigs were back and – surprise, surprise – taking prisoners wasn't an option.
Dulli calls The Skinny from New Orleans to discuss the album, taking a moment before answering each question before speaking with passion and at length. As ever, even down a transatlantic telephone line, he's a compelling presence and a class apart. He takes up the story of the album's origins: "Here's the thing: John Curley has always been a big supporter of mine and I would send him my songs before I let anyone else hear them. He's remained a great sounding board even when we weren't in a band together. I've always had a collaborative friendship with John and once we'd decided to make a record, we did three tracking sessions over the summer of 2013 and I was mixing the record by the end of the year. It happened really quickly and organically and so I took that as a sign that it was meant to be."
"There's no backstory to invent. It is what it is" – Greg Dulli
With his new record finding a top ten position in The Skinny's albums of the year, what new music did Dulli enjoy in 2014? "Oh I liked a whole bunch of records this year," he says. "I really like this band called Protomartyr, out of Detroit. They put out an album called under Color of Official Right. The Sinkane record, Mean Love. Love that record. Oh, and my dear friend Mark Lanegan released one of the greatest records he's ever made this year. Knowing him and being so close to him and watching him develop has been fascinating."
We close by reflecting further on a remarkable return and a "hugely joyous, hugely satisfying year" for The Afghan Whigs. "Every night we play," Dulli continues, "we play pretty much the entire album. The audiences have been wildly accepting of the new songs and that's how it should be. It's really the only way I would have done this. You continue on doing what you've always done or you have the decency to offer your audience something new. John and I started the band. So it's no disrespect to Rick [McCollum, original guitarist but not currently part of the group] or any of the eighteen drummers we've had over the years, but I've known John since we were teenagers. There's something incalculable about playing with someone you've known that long. There's no backstory to invent. It is what it is. It's been a really exciting year – we're gonna play another European run next year and we're really looking forward to it."
Is it too soon to ask about their next steps in the studio? "Well I'm in New Orleans right now and we're working on an EP," Dulli reveals. "We're very much an ongoing concern. I'm still going to do other things but I love this group and I do love playing with these guys, so it's absolutely an ongoing concern. How quickly something will come out, album-wise, I have no idea, but we're here. And we're going nowhere."